This article was previously published by the Accelerationism Research Consortium (ARC) on 18 December, 2023.)
On 8 December 2023, two alleged members of the Canadian branch of the Atomwaffen Division (AWD) were arrested in Canada. In a statement, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that they participated in the creation of Terrorgram Collective manifestos and Atomwaffen Division (AWD) recruiting videos. In 2021, Atomwaffen Division became a listed terrorist entity in Canada. The statement also highlights that many former Atomwaffen Division members joined Active Club Canada, including the two arrestees.
The arguably largest and fastest growing violent extreme-right network, called Active Clubs, claims to promote political street activism, a cool nationalist lifestyle, and combat sports training for white supremacists. However, it appears that Active Clubs are not really about sports. There is increasing evidence suggesting that the network’s main objective is rather the creation of a shadow militia that can be activated when the need for coordinated violent action on a larger scale arises.
These white supremacists do not seem to expect to engage their enemies only with fists in a ‘Day X’ scenario. Much more likely, their strategy aims to avoid or delay law enforcement interventions by looking significantly less dangerous and less relevant in comparison to other violent extreme-right actors; they are trying to hide in plain sight.
Reportedly, at least 30 Active Clubs in 17 US states were operational in April 2023. In November 2023, this rose to at least 50 Active Clubs in 34 states. Around 34 Active Clubs have been identified in 17 European countries, as well as 12 in Canada. Based on their self-reporting, the estimated average number of members per Active Club is between five and 25.
The Active Club network and strategy was created in the US in late 2020. Co-founder Robert Rundo describes the network as “… the leaderless resistance, when all these clubs are engaging in the same kind of style activism, pushing for similar goals, those create a unified front, and it doesn’t even need a leader to it. It's kind of like the minutemen (militia, AR) in the early stages of the revolutionary war. There were different bands of minutemen in the different states but they acted all in conjunction with each other.”
For those critical of street activism, he clarified the real objective: “A lot of people don´t understand, but doing activism does really give you skills like coordination, planning, leadership, following rules and directions, getting guys in and out of places. For a night of stenciling or a banner drop, guys have to learn how to coordinate so they don’t get arrested, get spotted by opponents, that they get in and out of there safely.”
These skills are much more needed for building a militia than for a combat sports club. Also, compared to extreme-right fight clubs in Europe, the combat sports skill level displayed in their own propaganda is underwhelming. According to Patriot Front, another extreme-right network in the U.S., their fighters won most fights against Active Club members in both official Active Club combat sports tournaments.
On 1 December 2023, a VICE News article revealed that one individual arrested on December 8 is not only a key players of the Active Club scene in Canada, but was also instrumental in creating the Active Club in Estonia. That club claims to have members fighting in the Russia-Ukraine war and has asked for financial support for their efforts.
In several instances, Active Clubs in the US (who are supposed to only show street activism and sports publicly) have shared details on Telegram about militia-training activities, including shooting drills and tactical casualty care.
The social media presence of Active Clubs is currently focused on TikTok, Instagram and X, which can be seen as part of a two-sided ‘whack a mole’ strategy; as soon as one profile is removed, another one reappears. Their main platform for propaganda and networking, however, is the messenger service Telegram, where their broad transnational network is visible. In addition, the video sharing platform Odysee is being used to publish propaganda videos. At the same time, Active Clubs are skeptical of “keyboard warriors” and emphasize the priority for offline recruitment at boxing and MMA tournaments, gyms, motocross courses, concerts, sportscar races, and local festivals.
November 2023, Warsaw, Poland: Active Clubs from Netherlands, Denmark, France, Poland, Estonia and U.S. Patriot Front members. Telegram.
If Active Clubs are allowed to continue to operate and multiply, the likelihood for targeted political violence and terrorism by their members against supposed enemies of the “white race” (e.g., Jews, people of color, Muslims, and LGTBQI+ individuals) will increase. Underestimating their strategy of hiding in plain sight may lead to a dangerous misunderstanding of the threat they pose in the US, Canada, and Europe.
Security agencies should therefore proactively investigate the true nature of Active Clubs in their respective countries to avoid getting fooled by this “white supremacy 3.0” strategy. The ongoing growth of the transnational militant Active Club network also requires an exchange of local and national threat assessments, investigative strategies, as well as promising prevention and rehabilitation practices between policymakers and law enforcement officials of the affected countries.